USC’s Health Sciences Campus installed new SmartFridges across facilities in late July to provide faculty, students and guests with healthy and accessible meals to go. The University installed the new technology to alleviate concerns that the 79-acre Lincoln Heights campus is a food desert.
According to Gary Marschall, the senior associate director of Retail Operations for USC, the refrigerators will ensure that there are more food options at HSC, which houses the Keck School of Medicine, the School of Pharmacy and three large teaching hospitals.
“Over at the Soto buildings on the HSC campus, we were looking for alternatives for the people who were in those buildings,” Marschall said. “It’s kind of like a food desert, it’s very barren of food options over there.”
The SmartFridge an innovation created by Everytable, a company dedicated to providing healthy meals in food deserts, is narrower than a vending machine and can be accessed by swiping a credit card on the terminal. Users can open the fridge and examine various dining options. Once the user chooses their meal and closes the door, the fridge will scan its contents to determine the respective price of the item missing. For added convenience, the University also installed microwaves near the fridges to heat meals.
“We decided to give it a shot and reached out to the folks that had the technology,” said Kris Klinger, the assistant vice president of USC Hospitality. “We are always idea-networking with what is out there and what we can bring to campus.”
According to Everytable CEO Sam Polk, the SmartFridges will bring made-from-scratch meals to more people in an efficient setting.
“Many USC students and faculty visit our storefront at 23rd and Union, but a [fridge] on campus will provide 24/7 access to our meals,” Polk wrote in a statement to the Daily Trojan. “In our journey, we’ve committed to serving the communities most vulnerable to food insecurity, and that includes college students.”
According to Klinger and Marschall, USC Hospitality initially considered the University Park Campus as a location to implement the smart fridges but decided that the HSC had a more urgent need for the food options. Conversations are currently ongoing to install the machines at University Park.
Polk believes that food insecurity is a growing problem on college campuses that can affect a student’s academic performance.
“We envision a day where no student has to worry about where their next meal will come from, and eventually, everyone across the country has access to healthy, affordable food,” Polk wrote.
According to Marschall, the fridges have received positive responses so far.
“The reaction has been good. We had been letting the community know that [the fridges] were coming,” Marschall said. “A lot of people were aware of it and were excited to see what it was and give it a shot.”
The current menu is a collection of 50 of the top-rated items from Everytable. It includes dishes such as carnitas bowls, Jamaican jerk chicken bowls, spaghetti and meatballs and salads. According to Everytable, the menu is inspired by the culture and flavors of L.A.
Once the fridges have been operating for long enough, Everytable will be able to use its data to gain personalized feedback on how specific items are selling.
“Vending in general is starting to go through some really big changes,” Marschall said. “It’s not your old school Coke machine or snack machine, there are going to be a lot more changes providing higher quality food.”